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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – These reader questions were answered at the American Animal Hospital Association Conference 2014 in March. AAHA is the only organization which accredits veterinary practices for excellence in veterinary standards. There are over 50,000 AAHA veterinary care providers. AAHA also oversees the creation and writing of many veterinary care guidelines. The AAHA website offers lots of credible information for pet owners: www.aaha.org.

Q: My 12-year-old cat sneezes at least six or seven times a day, usually more. Is this normal for an older cat? – D.R., Sun City, Fla.

A: If your cat has sneezed like this forever, it’s normal for your pet, who could have a chronic upper respiratory virus, which comes and goes.

“However, if this persistent sneezing is new, definitely do see your veterinarian,” says American Animal Hospital Association Board Member Dr. Heather Loenser, of Lebanon, N.J. “Is the cat snotty? Report to your veterinarian whether or not a discharge is coming only from one nostril or both sides, which may actually be important information,” she adds.

Loenser also wants to know if your cat is really sneezing (as opposed to coughing), and, if so, what that looks like. Use a smartphone or camera to videotape your kitty so you can show your veterinarian what’s going on. The cat is unlikely to sneeze on cue during an office visit.

There could be an obstruction up your cat’s nose. Veterinarians have found sticks, small pencils and other objects. A nasal tumor is another possibility.

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Q: Our 15-year-old, now blind and deaf pug is a wonderful pet, but something has changed. Our dog had always spent the night in his cage next to our bed. When we went on a vacation, my daughter cared for Buster. Her schedule was different from ours because she attended school during the day. Around that time, Buster developed the habit of having a bowel movement in his cage about 5 a.m.

I take Buster out around 10:30 at night, and that’s when he previously had his major bowel movement. How do I get him back to his old ways? – N.C., Beaconsfield, Quebec, Canada

A: American Animal Hospital Association immediate past president Dr. Kate Knutson, of Bloomington, Minn., says, “You tell me that the dog previously has his major bowel movement at 10:30 p.m. Did he typically only have one a day? If so, it’s normal for most dogs, particularly older dogs, to go twice daily.”

Also, Buster’s schedule may have been turned upside down because your daughter’s schedule was so different from yours. To get him back into the habit of going at a better time may require you to get up before 5 a.m. to take him out. Once you succeed, move up to 5:30, then 5:45, etc. He may now need to do his business early in the morning rather than at night, although it should be at a more reasonable time.

“Also, try feeding him later at night,” Knutson comments.

Buster’s change of habit could be related to aging. He may be developing canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, akin to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. If you can check off two or more signs of these signs, see your veterinarian:

1. Disorientation: Does Buster periodically seem confused, perhaps getting trapped in corners, or attempting to walk through doors on the wrong side?

2. Interaction changes: Is Buster more or less attentive toward people, or seemingly forgets familiar people?

3. Sleep/wake cycle changes: While most older dogs sleep more, is Buster sleeping far more during the day, then up overnight?

4. House soiling: Is your dog house-trained dog yet having accidents?

5. Activity level: While, of course, older dogs are less active, does Buster seem to just exist, seldom doing whatever he previously enjoyed?

If Buster is diagnosed with canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, a veterinarian can prescribe medication, nutritional supplementation and/or even a special diet, which may help.